Cam Cole: NHL completes 180-degree turn on domestic violence policy

 

 
 
 
 
In this May 18, 2014, file photo, Los Angeles Kings’ Slava Voynov (26) reacts after Chicago Blackhawks’ Duncan Keith scored during the second period in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals in the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs in Chicago. The NHL has indefinitely suspended Voynov because of domestic violence charges. The league says he was arrested Monday morning, Oct. 20, 2014, but isn’t providing other details. Police in the Los Angeles suburb of Redondo Beach released limited information early Monday, giving no details of what is alleged to have occurred.
 
 

In this May 18, 2014, file photo, Los Angeles Kings’ Slava Voynov (26) reacts after Chicago Blackhawks’ Duncan Keith scored during the second period in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals in the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs in Chicago. The NHL has indefinitely suspended Voynov because of domestic violence charges. The league says he was arrested Monday morning, Oct. 20, 2014, but isn’t providing other details. Police in the Los Angeles suburb of Redondo Beach released limited information early Monday, giving no details of what is alleged to have occurred.

Photograph by: Nam Y. Huh, AP

A better test of the National Hockey League’s staunch commitment to fight domestic violence would be to see how it would have handled the Slava Voynov case before the Ray Rice video turned the sports investigation landscape on its ear.

Oh, wait. We already witnessed that.

It was the Semyon Varlamov affair, last year at this time. The Colorado Avalanche goalie was charged after his Russian girlfriend reported that she had been beaten and kicked, and bruises noted by police responding to the incident were documented.

The NHL’s reaction, last Halloween?

“At this point,” said deputy commissioner Bill Daly in a statement, “we are monitoring the developing legal situation and do not intend to intervene in that process. There may come a point in time where we feel it is either necessary or appropriate to take a different approach, but that’s not where we are right now.”

Varlamov was released on $5,000 bail, was not suspended, flew with the team, and played the next game.

A year later, it’s as though it was a figment of someone’s imagination. Nothing happened, the girlfriend was dismissed as a Russian quack hoping to extort money from the goalie, her testimony discredited. Prosecutors decided they didn’t have enough evidence to proceed, and the matter was dropped.

Varlamov was exonerated, which effectively closed the file on NHL domestic abuse. And that loud whooshing sound New Yorkers heard along Avenue of the Americas was the sigh of relief coming from the NHL offices when the case didn’t go to court.

Cut to Monday morning. Redondo Beach police were called to a hospital where a woman had been admitted with “alarming” injuries indicative enough of domestic violence that Voynov, the Los Angeles Kings’ 24-year-old defenceman (who was present at the hospital), was arrested under California Penal Code 273.5, which covers a whole range of domestic crimes.

He has not yet been charged.

Before news had even broken in L.A., the NHL released a statement announcing that it had suspended Voynov, with pay, under Section 18-A. 5 of the CBA, which states that the league may suspend a player when “failure to do so would create a substantial risk of material harm to the legitimate interests and/or reputation of the League.’’

No due process required, this time. No “innocent until proven guilty” benefit of the doubt.

So, before we all heap praise on the NHL for its swift and decisive action, we should probably consider who or what precipitated this 180-degree turnabout.

The answer is, of course, Ray Rice. In a twisted sort of way, we should all be grateful to TMZ, the celebrity muckraking website/TV show, for its role in exposing the National Football League’s shocking inaction after the Baltimore running back clocked his then-fiancee, knocking her out cold, in that casino elevator.

It tilted the sports world off its axis, and it may never be quite the same again.

When the child-injury revelations about Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson emerged on the heels of the graphic Rice footage, the NFL was placed under a high-powered microscope, and the fallout was vastly more far-reaching than just a couple of cannon shots amidships to pro football’s leviathan.

The attempted coverup of the Rice assault — beyond the heat it rightly put on dithering, double-talking NFL commissioner Roger Goodell — caused smoldering tire fires to reignite in domestic abuse allegations against three other NFL players.

Subsequent investigations by journalists shed light on the role of teams’ security departments in cover-ups and silencing victims through intimidation, and revealed cozy arrangements between teams and friendly members of local police forces, who provide yet another layer of insulation between the perpetrators and formal charges.

Those practices, too, are being scrutinized as never before.

So now, when awareness is at an all-time high and everybody is in butt-covering mode, is the worst possible time to cross the line.

This is the hornet’s nest Voynov brought down on himself late Sunday night. That’s not to say he’s guilty, and Varlamov was not prosecuted, so that’s that.

But all the stones will be turned over this time. The NHL needs that to happen. It needs, Gary Bettman needs, to be perceived as having learned from the NFL/Roger Goodell mess.

Last month at a luncheon in Toronto, Bettman foreshadowed the league’s heightened awareness of its responsibility.

“Whenever that phone rings, and sometimes it does at two in the morning, you’ve got to respond and you’ve got to have your A-game, otherwise you’re liable to make a mistake, and when you make a mistake in this position, it gets magnified,” he said. “And it doesn’t matter if you’re right 99 out of 100 times, which is a pretty good batting record, it’s that one that you’ll have to live with and deal with.”

Slava Voynov is free on a $50,000 bond and cannot practice or play or be around the team for an as-yet unspecified period.

His court date is Dec. 1.

Until something is resolved, the defending champions lose their No. 2 defenceman, to whom they committed $25 million over six years last season, a guy who’s been on both Stanley Cup teams ... and yet they haven’t uttered a peep of complaint.

The club’s statement: “These developments are of great concern to our organization. We support the NHL’s decision to suspend Slava Voynov indefinitely during this process, and we will continue to take appropriate action as the legal proceedings and the investigation by the NHL take their course.”

The cloak of invisibility is gone, and they’ve all been rattled by it. Nothing more noble than that should be inferred.

ccole@vancouversun.com

Twitter.com/rcamcole

 
 
 
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In this May 18, 2014, file photo, Los Angeles Kings’ Slava Voynov (26) reacts after Chicago Blackhawks’ Duncan Keith scored during the second period in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals in the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs in Chicago. The NHL has indefinitely suspended Voynov because of domestic violence charges. The league says he was arrested Monday morning, Oct. 20, 2014, but isn’t providing other details. Police in the Los Angeles suburb of Redondo Beach released limited information early Monday, giving no details of what is alleged to have occurred.
 

In this May 18, 2014, file photo, Los Angeles Kings’ Slava Voynov (26) reacts after Chicago Blackhawks’ Duncan Keith scored during the second period in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals in the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs in Chicago. The NHL has indefinitely suspended Voynov because of domestic violence charges. The league says he was arrested Monday morning, Oct. 20, 2014, but isn’t providing other details. Police in the Los Angeles suburb of Redondo Beach released limited information early Monday, giving no details of what is alleged to have occurred.

Photograph by: Nam Y. Huh, AP

 
In this May 18, 2014, file photo, Los Angeles Kings’ Slava Voynov (26) reacts after Chicago Blackhawks’ Duncan Keith scored during the second period in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals in the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs in Chicago. The NHL has indefinitely suspended Voynov because of domestic violence charges. The league says he was arrested Monday morning, Oct. 20, 2014, but isn’t providing other details. Police in the Los Angeles suburb of Redondo Beach released limited information early Monday, giving no details of what is alleged to have occurred.
Martin Jones #31 of the Los Angeles Kings makes a save in front of Dustin Byfuglien #33 of the Winnipeg Jets and Slava Voynov #26 of during the first period at Staples Center on October 12, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. The league says he was arrested Monday morning, Oct. 20, 2014, but isn’t providing other details. Police in the Los Angeles suburb of Redondo Beach released limited information early Monday, giving no details of what is alleged to have occurred.
Brayden McNabb #3 of the Los Angeles Kings and Slava Voynov #26 discuss play during a 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets at Staples Center on October 12, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. The NHL has indefinitely suspended Voynov because of domestic violence charges. The league says he was arrested Monday morning, Oct. 20, 2014, but isn’t providing other details. Police in the Los Angeles suburb of Redondo Beach released limited information early Monday, giving no details of what is alleged to have occurred.
Joakim Lindstrom #10 of the St. Louis Blues fights for the puck with Slava Voynov #26 of the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on October 16, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. The league says he was arrested Monday morning, Oct. 20, 2014, but isn’t providing other details. Police in the Los Angeles suburb of Redondo Beach released limited information early Monday, giving no details of what is alleged to have occurred.
Goalie Jonathan Quick #32 of the Los Angeles Kings is congratulated by Slava Voynov #26 after Quick’s shutout against the St. Louis Blues at Staples Center on October 16, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.   The Kings won 1-0 in a shootout. The league says he was arrested Monday morning, Oct. 20, 2014, but isn’t providing other details. Police in the Los Angeles suburb of Redondo Beach released limited information early Monday, giving no details of what is alleged to have occurred.
Justin Schultz #19 of the Edmonton Oilers takes an off balance shot while defended by Slava Voynov #26 of the Los Angeles Kings in the first period at Staples Center on October 14, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. The league says he was arrested Monday morning, Oct. 20, 2014, but isn’t providing other details. Police in the Los Angeles suburb of Redondo Beach released limited information early Monday, giving no details of what is alleged to have occurred.
Edmonton Oilers’ Justin Schultz (19) and Los Angeles Kings’ Slava Voynov (26), of Russia, compete for the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014, in Los Angeles. The league says he was arrested Monday morning, Oct. 20, 2014, but isn’t providing other details. Police in the Los Angeles suburb of Redondo Beach released limited information early Monday, giving no details of what is alleged to have occurred.
Slava Voynov #26 of the Los Angeles Kings stands for the singing of the national anthem prior to a game against the Edmonton Oilers on March 9, 2014 at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The NHL has indefinitely suspended Voynov because of domestic violence charges. The league says he was arrested Monday morning, Oct. 20, 2014, but isn’t providing other details. Police in the Los Angeles suburb of Redondo Beach released limited information early Monday, giving no details of what is alleged to have occurred.
Matt Nieto #83 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates his goal with teammates in front of Slava Voynov #26 and Jonathan Quick #32 of the Los Angeles Kings to take a 4-0 lead during the second period at Staples Center on October 8, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. The league says he was arrested Monday morning, Oct. 20, 2014, but isn’t providing other details. Police in the Los Angeles suburb of Redondo Beach released limited information early Monday, giving no details of what is alleged to have occurred.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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